Board of Directors
- Tung Bach Ly, Interim Chairman
- Diana Pei Wu, Ph.D., Board Member
- Cassandra Tran, Board Member
- Mike Trong Nguyen, J.D., Secretary
- Nailah Ricco, J.D., Board Member
- Mimi-Cristien Nguyen, Board Member
- Thandor Miller, Board Member
- Tom Costanza, Board Member
Minh Nguyen / Founder & Executive Director
Minh Nguyen is the Founder and Executive Director of VAYLA New Orleans, Board Member of Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadian, Second Vice Chair of the Asian Pacific American Society of New Orleans, and 2013 Inaugural Fellow of the Norman C. Francis Leadership Institute. Since 2006, Minh has dedicated his life to building a new kind of home for New Orleanians, one that honors that right and power of local residents, young and old, to determine the future of their own neighborhoods. As the Executive Director of VAYLA, Minh has dedicated his work to creating space and leveraging resources to build the capacity of youth, their families, and supporting community members to lead and influence policies, practices and procedures within the public education and health sectors. Through his leadership, Minh has successfully brought together African-American, Vietnamese, Latino and Caucasian community members to take collective action and determine and the future outcomes of their community. His long-term advocacy and organizing efforts have invigorated political energy of New Orleanians through uniting residents under the common goals of taking local control over their schools and city governance structures.
Minh graduated from Loyola University New Orleans with a double major in management and marketing. His leadership as a student includes his services as the External Vice President of the Union of North American Vietnamese Student Association (UNAVSA) and the Executive Director of the UNAVSA Fourth Annual North American Vietnamese Student Conference.
General Education Development (GED) Program
English Second Language (ESL) Program
Vietnamese Second Language (VSL) Program
Ride To Success (RTS)
Dianna Hong Nguyen has lived in New Orleans for the last 36 years. Her family was one of the first Vietnamese families to reside in New Orleans in 1975 after the Vietnam War. After she was very effective as an administrative assistance at a local elementary school in New Orleans east, she joined VAYLA as an administrator.
After a year of reflection and given an opportunity with hands-on experience with tutoring the GED to people ranging from 18 to 50, Dianna is an advocate of the GED program. She urges people to never give up on themselves. Her dedication and genuine love for education will guide the young adults to achieve their dreams.
Her goal is not only to be a dedicated staff member overseeing the administrative area of VAYLA but also to tutor and prepare people for the GED test. She encourages all the people, who for whatever reason during their adolescent life have dropped out of high school to come to VAYLA to prepare them to receive the GED certificate.
Margaret Xuan Dung Fellowship Program
VAYLA’s Summer Program
Erica Buher joined VAYLA in October 2012 as the Youth Development Coordinator. Prior to this, Erica worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate, focusing on foreign relations, homeland security, and defense. Erica became passionate about social justice as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in African Studies and Political Science. She also currently serves on the Board of Directors for ATRAVES, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in Barrio Camilo Ortega, an impoverished neighborhood in Managua, Nicaragua.
In this capacity, she supports the Margaret Xuan Dung Fellowship program and VAYLA’s Organizing Training Institute.
Erica’s other passions include Paulo Freire, baked goods, and puppies.
Chris Sang / Communications & Media Director
Chris joined VAYLA in November 2012. Originally from Plainfield, New Jersey, Chris has spent the last several years in Chicago, Illinois, working in partnership with communities to tackle the systemic social nd health disparities affecting them. He has been responsible for directing comprehensive initiatives that took youth-led preventative approaches to addressing violence, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, and childhood obesity. Chris is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in Africana Studies and Political Science.
As the Raise Your Hand Campaign’s Media & Communications Director, Chris supports VAYLA staff and student leaders in crafting stories about their education equity campaigns, using the power of media to amplify youth voices in education policy and decision-making. He focuses on media outreach, developing media trainings, and managing the RYHC website.
Chris is excited about working with youth and community leaders in New Orleans to build a movement that transforms the educational system to one that truly serves students and families.
Huong Nguyen / Outreach & Youth Program Coordinator
Young Womyn’s Leadership Program
Volunteer Opportunities/ Cultural Events
VAYLA Social: Sports Tournament & Entertainment Showcase
Huong Nguyen became an active member of VAYLA New Orleans in 2006 and became a staff in 2008. She was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. She graduated from the University of New Orleans in 2012, where she majored in Business Marketing.
She is the founder and Program Coordinator of the Young Womyn’s Leadership Program (YWLP), which seeks to provide a safe space for young womyn that supports the development of healthy coping skills, enhanced self esteem and increases their intellectual, civic, and social skills. She inititaed the first young womyn’s flag football team in New Orleans East. At VAYLA, Huong is also responsible for VAYLA’s cultural programming, which sustains VAYLA’s mission of cultural enrichment and serves as a mechanism to recruit new members and develop them as leaders. The coordinator also collaborates with the Administrative Director on VAYLA’s payroll and financial management.
Huong was awarded the 2009 Service Leader/Youth Ally Change Maker Award from the Gulfsouth Youth Action Corps and she was also the 2nd Runner Up in the 2009 ASPIRE Outstanding Woman of the Year Award. From VAYLA, she received the ‘Most Valuable Player – Womyn’s Flag Football Award’ in July 2009 and the ‘Seeds of Hope Award’ in May 2011.
Huong enjoys sharing her favorites, pomegranates and kale chips, with the young people.
Cristi Wijngaarde / Community Organizer
Youth Organizing Unity (YOU2)
Originally from Rio de Janerio, Brazil, Cristi has been in New Orleans, LA for the past 25 years. Working on community issues has been her lifelong passion. She has worked for the local school system for the past 8 years, she has served as the Vice President of the Head Start Policy Council, and she enjoys volunteering with the Cub Scouts of America.
Cristi joined VAYLA in February of 2012. She coordinates YOU2 (Youth Organizing Unity 2), a youth-led program that focuses on protecting the educational rights of immigrant students and parents by addressing the absence of translation, interpretation, and English Language Learner programs at New Orleans schools. Through the “Lost in the System” campaign, YOU2 promotes ESL rights for students that need assistance with learning the English language and prevent them from being treated unfairly. Cristi is the founder of LOS MUNDO UNIDOS, a community group that empowers undocumented Latino families.
Cristi is committed to working with limited English families on their rights for a better education system.
Margaret Xuan Dung Fellowship
ESL for Youth and Adults
Leah joined VAYLA in 2013 as the Education Program Coordinator. At VAYLA, Leah leads interactive ESL classes for adults and youth, supports the Margaret Xuan Dung Fellowship and the Young Womyns Leadership Program, helps youth formulate and achieve their academic goals, and is working toward a VAYLA Wellness Initiative.
Leah graduated from Tufts University in Massachusetts where she studied Community Health and Child Development. Having worked with young people in school gardens and on farms in Boston, she is drawn to the academic and social-emotional learning that can result from working outside. She is passionate about the power of connection among community members to promote empowerment and enduring positive change.
Leah is excited to be working at VAYLA through AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps.
Connie joined VAYLA as the Community Health Advocate in January 2014. She graduated from the Tulane School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine in 2013 with a Master in Public Health in Epidemiology. Connie brings to VAYLA over 5 years of National Institutes of Health research experience, four years of working with New Orleans-based nonprofits, and four years of Vietnamese and Spanish translation and interpreting background.
Having grown up in a medical family in the Greater New Orleans area, Connie is deeply committed to equal health rights for low-income and uninsured members of the population. She believes that through community action, youth engagement, and advocacy work, New Orleans East can attain much higher standards of healthcare and in turn, a greater quality of life for all.
Although she has traveled to 27 different countries and lived and worked abroad in 3, she will always call New Orleans and VAYLA home.